In Shakespeare’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, fairies flit playfully through the forest, dukes and duchesses clash, spells and curses are flung left and right and a man’s head is turned into a donkey’s.
In the middle of this madness, four regular people find themselves wandering the woods of Athens, searching for love.
Chautauqua Theater Company’s summer rendition of A Midsummer Night’s Dream runs until July 31, and is currently making its way throughout Chautauqua County. CTC will perform Midsummer at 6:30 p.m. tonight, July 17, at Southern Tier Brewing Company in Lakewood, weather permitting.
The show follows four young lovers — Hermia, Helena, Lysander and Demetrius — as they end up lost in the forest, bewitched by fairies and pitted against one another as they vie for romantic success.
The lovers are played by CTC conservatory actors Courtney Stennett, Elizabeth Erb, Alexander De Vasconcelos Matos and Rishan Dhamija, respectively. Each of the actors said they enjoy aspects of playing the energetic and idealistic lovers.
Matos said that finding a way to highlight the earnest adoration his character feels for Hermia, without turning the performance into a caricature of love, was both difficult and rewarding.
“Acting is always a process of finding yourself in the character, so it’s been a challenge to figure out what part of me fits into Lysander,” Matos said. “It can be difficult to play something so pure without making some kind of commentary on it. Doing it in a genuine way was one of the biggest challenges.”
On the other side of the spectrum, Dhamija said that exploring the more nefarious sides of his character was what he enjoyed most.
“I’ve always played the good guy,” Dhamija said. “(Playing Demetrius) has been really fun so far. Antagonists get to do all the mean, stupid, funny things. For me, diving into his sinister side a little bit was something I’d never done before and really enjoyed.”
This production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream was Dhamija’s first experience acting in a Shakespeare show. He said while navigating the text was daunting at times, savoring the physicality and levity of the play helped ground him.
“The movement and the physicality was one of the best parts,” Dhamija said. “Actors can be really in their own heads, and the more physical we got, the less we were overthinking things.”
During their adventure through the woods, the lovers end up clashing with one another, leaping through the air and performing elaborate acts of stage combat. Stennett echoed Dhamija’s point, saying that embracing the dynamic nature of the role was something she took to with pleasure.
“It’s been fun to get to play a character who is so much larger than her body,” Stennett said. “I really got to just go for it. The physicality we have is pretty intense, so it can get kind of sweaty, but we just have so much fun.”
The rehearsal process for the show was a quick one; the actors only had two weeks before the first performance. However, since the rest of the cast was also involved with the Young Playwrights Project in the early stages of rehearsal, Erb, Dhamija, Matos and Stennett got to spend some additional time working with each other.
“We really got to hone in on our scenes and dive deep into them,” Erb said. “That really served us — having that extra time — because it allowed us to figure out where each other’s boundaries were and let us get closer to one another.”
During the course of the show’s tour throughout the county, the actors have had to face a number of obstacles and had to adapt to a variety of unexpected situations.
At the Jessica Trapasso Pavilion at Children’s School, actors had to climb onto the stage through the pavilion’s windows in the pouring rain. On Bestor Plaza, not everyone in the audience could hear the audio coming through the speakers, so the actors had to dig in and project. At Lakeside Park in Mayville, one actor went so far as to jump in the lake for the sake of the show.
Through the ups and downs of the process, the four actors playing the Athenian lovers said working with one another made the experience well worth it.